Total Posts:7|Showing Posts:1-7
Jump to topic:

Conservatism

YYW
Posts: 36,375
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
3/27/2014 11:49:47 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
This is one of a series of posts I'm going to do on political ideology. I think there's a need for it, and this is the one at least that I'm the most interested in because of the tension within the Republican party right now. This isn't the final word on conservatism as an ideology, but I do hope to explain, more or less, what conservatism is, where it came from and what it means now.

Conservatism as an ideology emerged around the 19th century in reaction to the 1789 Revolution in France. Conservatism's purpose, consistent with the root word, is "to conserve" but in some cases, also to restore something lost. Conservatism is predicated on a belief in a strong but limited government which both maximizes economic liberty while enforcing public morality by codifying moral norms into law. Edmund Burke wrote, in response to France's revolution, what has become the foundational treatise of modern conservatism: "Reflections on the Revolution in France."

Burke's central idea was a prudent willingness to "change in order to conserve" and so there even today exists a spirited debate among political theorists whether Burke was a conservative liberal or a liberal conservative. However, Burke understood that social progression was both necessary and inevitable, but that didn't mean that traditional institutions and forms of government were necessarily suspect because of that. Above all, Burke was a pragmatist, and pragmatism is probably the defining theme of British conservatism since Burke's time.

Conservatism in the US, similar to its development in England, was also born in reaction to progressive social change. Before the 1960s, most Republicans and Democrats were not comfortable being called "conservative," because conservatism as it existed in Europe meant an ardent defense of monarchy, the role of the church in the state and varying degrees of social authoritarianism. But, southern Democrats and Republicans who supported Barry Goldwater, and later Reagan, Bush and now the Tea Party, have increasingly donned the title in reaction to liberal social progression. In England, also, Margaret Thatcher's government mirrored Reagan's "new right" movement of, more or less, fusion conservatism which homogenized social authoritarianism with a strong belief in open, unregulated markets -which, perhaps ironically, showcases economic liberalism's impact on modern conservatism, insofar as the idea of free and open markets is decidedly classically liberal.

There are some basic ideas behind conservatism as both an ideology and a political attitude that goes deeper than an ardent defense of the status quo. Conservatives have a specific set of values derived from a theory of human nature and therefore conservatism is more than just an attitude, it is an ideology grounded in respect for tradition, a theory of human nature that begins with human imperfection, a belief in organic society, support for hierarchy and authority, and a defense of property rights.

Defense of tradition is grounded in an idea that there is inherent wisdom in "the way things are," such that practices or institutions which have ensured through time have merit in their own rite. For example, conservatives believe that social institutions like religion have real value that extends beyond politics insofar as the church has a legitimate role in protecting the moral fabric of society. Burke thought that God was the source of Natural Law and that to challenge the status quo was to upset God's will. Change, then, was more likely to result in worse things than improvements. Burke stressed that because society existed in partnership between the dead, the living and the yet to be born, we in the present are no more than the trustees of our social order. Society and culture were an inheritance that must be conserved, must not be destroyed and we must therefore act as good stewards of the present, that what we have may be passed on to the next generation.

Conservatives understand human nature as necessarily imperfect, that human beings are always already flawed and that that life without order is, as Hobbes would say, "nasty, brutish and short" because in the absence of order, there can be no security. Human's flawed nature is derived from the Old Testament notion of original sin, and stands in opposition to Locke's idea that humans are neither inherently good nor bad and Rousseau's predilection that all men are born naturally good. Conservatives believe that humans will inherently seek security because of their self consciousness that people are inherently flawed and their means to that end is though a government that upholds public morality (often through measures of social authoritarianism). The purpose of the law, then, is not to uphold individual liberty (at least not necessarily), but to preserve order and therefore provide security.

Conservatives hold that society is organic, meaning that society functions in the same way that a living organism functions, such that the whole is far more than the sum of its parts which exist by natural necessity. The implication, then, is that progress or change alters the structures and institutions of which society has been comprised and does so at the expense of the society as a whole. This conception, however, has precipitously eroded as the New Right has replaced traditional values of natural aristocracy and hierarchy with individualism and humanism.

Aristocracy and hierarchal order is something that is likewise seen as something natural to and inherent within human social order, according to the conservative viewpoint. Because humans do not all share the same talents, inclinations and abilities there will always exist some kind of difference between people and therefore roles are apportioned according to that division. Equality, then, is nothing more than a humanist abstraction and authority is self-justifying. This starkly contrasts with Liberal understandings of authority in which legitimate authority is derived from consent and purposed to protect individual rights. But, conservatives do not believe that authority is something that should be arbitrarily exercised and must be exercised within strict limits consistent with the responsibility that authority entails.

Property rights, however, are perhaps the most foundational and indispensable foundation of conservatism because property rights must exist in order for wealth to accumulate, social hierarchies to be maintained and security in its most basic level to exist. Conservatives believe that property should be prudently managed, not squandered and where possible grown to ensure a better material wellbeing for their posterity. Property is the source of self actualization and the measure of accomplishment. That does not mean, however, that property rights are absolute or that property exists to be squandered by the present generation. It exists in time as some thing of which must be prudently managed.
Tsar of DDO
YYW
Posts: 36,375
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
3/27/2014 11:52:39 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
I'm thinking about talking a bit more about the new right and libertarianism, but that will be for a later post.
Tsar of DDO
YYW
Posts: 36,375
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
3/27/2014 12:10:36 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
The New Right is what has become of conservatism, beginning at the end of WWII which ideologically materialized in the 1960s and 1970s in response to Keynesian economics, welfare statism, and social progression. Practically, the new right stand for some very simple things: lower taxes, censorship of television and films (nipples are a no-go, for example) and limited or no immigration. It is essentially the homogeny of classical economic liberalism and traditional social conservatism.

The New Right exists on two planes: the liberal new right and the conservative new right.

The liberal new right (comprised more or less of libertarians) is, decidedly, anti-statist, its ideological roots are more precisely derived from classical liberalism opposes any exercise of power that amounts to coercion. This translates into an opposition to collectivist social policies, a rejection of government economic intervention and a moral opposition to taxes which some even describe as "theft." The liberal new right's ideological foundation is an almost religious devotion to the free market.

For further reading, see Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Freidrich Hayek, Robert Nozick and Milton Friedman.

The conservative new right (includes both neoconservatives and the Tea Party) emerged in the 1960s in response to the 1960s liberal reform. While the conservative new right agrees with the liberal new right, economically, socially, the conservative new right are concerned with imposing Victorian values onto society under the force of law. For example, strengthening the family and defending the nuclear familial model against any form of change translates into an opposition to gay marriage in the United States. The conservative new right sees a moral imperative to oppose social permissiveness, which in the 1960s meant opposing racial integration of schools, in the 1970s became ardent opposition to abortion, and in the 1980s became opposition to gay rights in general.
Tsar of DDO
YYW
Posts: 36,375
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
3/27/2014 2:01:10 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Conservatism, Further Reading:

Michael Oakeshott, On Being Concervative
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Irving Kristol, The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it Was, and What it Is
Tsar of DDO
jzonda415
Posts: 151
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
3/29/2014 11:24:14 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
YYW,

One quick critique: I feel you may have left out a big part of the history of Conservatism. You forgot to mention Paleoconservatives and the Old Right.

Also, could you help explain Conservatives' views on foreign interventionism? I am Conservative and not much of an interventionist, but I always hear different stories depending on the source on if Conservatism is interventionist or not.
YYW
Posts: 36,375
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
3/30/2014 4:08:36 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 3/29/2014 11:24:14 PM, jzonda415 wrote:
YYW,

One quick critique: I feel you may have left out a big part of the history of Conservatism. You forgot to mention Paleoconservatives and the Old Right.

Yeah, I left out quite a bit of everything on all of the ideologies I've mentioned. I can talk about paleoconservatism at some point, though.

Also, could you help explain Conservatives' views on foreign interventionism?

Conservatives aren't really of one mind on foreign intervention, or foreign policy, generally. But yeah, I can go over that later.

I am Conservative and not much of an interventionist, but I always hear different stories depending on the source on if Conservatism is interventionist or not.

Sure. I'll cover the contrasting schools of thought to that end in a later post.
Tsar of DDO